When you hear the phrase “burn injury,” you likely picture the small burns you might get from a drop of oil jumping out of the frying pan when you cook – painful, but commonplace, and usually no big deal – or more serious burns you might get from being trapped in a burning house, or in a car after a crash – horrifying, but highly unlikely to happen to you or someone you love.
However, there is a wide range of burns in-between the little and big, and most of them still require medical treatment to prevent infection, permanent scarring, or other serious and even life-threatening complications.
Knowing how burns happen – and they’re not always caused by fire – can help you protect yourself from these painful and potentially disfiguring injuries.
The 3 Major Types of Burns
In addition to being categorized as 1st-degree, 2nd-degree, and 3rd-degree according to their severity, burns are also commonly sorted into three different categories depending on what caused them. 86% of burns that require medical treatment are thermal burns, and are caused by heat, 4% are chemical burns, and 3% are electrical burns. The remaining 7% of burns include all other causes, including radiation burns.
Thermal burns are caused by:
- Contact with flame or fire, such as in a building fire or in an explosion (43% of burns)
- Scalding injuries from hot liquid or steam, such as overheated beverages or extremely hot water from a household tap (34% of burns)
- Contact with hot objects, such as metal pipes, engines, cooking equipment, soldering equipment, etc. (9% of burns)
Chemical burns can be caused by:
- Household cleaners like bleach, ammonia, and chlorine
- Some skin, hair, teeth, and nail products
- Battery acid
- Concrete mix
- Some metals and minerals, such as lime
Electrical burns can be caused by:
- Defective equipment, such as power tools or electronic devices
- Extension cords with cracked or worn insulation, or that are used to carry more electric current than they are rated for
- Contact with downed or insufficiently insulated power lines
- Touching energized equipment that is not grounded
Where Do Burn Injuries Happen?
Accidents that cause burn injuries can happen anywhere, but they can be more common in certain situations or in certain professions than in others.
For example, electrical burns are more common at work than at home, and construction workers, utility workers, and tree service employees are more likely to be electrocuted than other types of workers.
Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Burn Injuries
While we can’t always protect ourselves from burns caused by other people’s negligence, we can reduce our own risk of burns by following these important safety tips:
- Test the smoke alarms in your home once a month and replace the batteries in your smoke alarms every six months.
- Don’t leave sources of heat unattended. That means unplugging your curling iron when not in use, and blowing out candles before leaving the room.
- Install anti-scald devices on tub faucets and shower heads to prevent scalding injuries from too hot tap water. Children are especially at risk from this type of injury.
- Keep all household cleaners and other chemicals out of reach of children and pets.
- Don’t attempt to pour household cleaners and chemicals into new containers.
- Don’t use power cords or extension cords with exposed or frayed wires.
- Always plug major appliances like refrigerators and freezers directly into the wall outlet, not a multi-plug adapter or surge protector.
Who is Liable for My Burn Injury?
Sometimes, no one is at fault for a burn, or it may even be the result of the victim’s own momentary lapse in caution. For example, even if you were left with serious scalding injuries after dropping a pot of boiling water while carrying it to the sink, there usually isn’t any negligence at play on someone else’s part.
However, sometimes burns are caused by someone else’s negligence.
For example, people may be burned by defective products that heat up too fast, or to higher temperatures than they are supposed to. These products may even catch fire or explode. The exploding hoverboards from 2016, and the exploding vape pens from 2019, are both examples of this. When manufacturers fail to make products safe for consumers, they can be held responsible.
Likewise, if people are injured in building fires, they may be able to hold the construction company or property owner liable if the building didn’t meet fire code, causing the fire to spread or make it difficult to safely put out the fire or for residents to escape.
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